But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman ,.... Many and severe are the prohibitions of the Jews, concerning looking upon a woman, which they aggravate as a very great sin: they say F11 T. Bab. Avoda Zara, fol. 1, 2. , it is not lawful to look upon a beautiful woman, though unmarried; nor upon another man's wife, though deformed; nor upon a woman's coloured garments: they forbid F12 T. Bab. Beracot, fol. 24. 1. Sabbat. fol. 64. 2. looking on a woman's little finger, and say F13 T. Bab. Beracot, fol. 61. 1. Eruvin, fol. 18. 2. , that he that tells money to a woman, out of his hand into her's, that he may look upon her, though he is possessed of the law and good works, even as Moses, he shall not escape the damnation of hell: they affirm F14 T. Bab. Nedarim, fol. 20. 1. T. Hieros. Challa, fol. 58. 3. Derech Eretz. c. 1. fol. 17. 3. , that he that looks upon a woman's heel, his children shall not be virtuous; and that a man may not go after a woman in the way, no, not after his wife: should he meet her on a bridge, he must take her to the side of him; and whoever goes through a river after a woman, shall have no part in the world to F15 T. Bab. Beracot, fol. 61. 1. Eruvin, fol. 18. 2. come: nay, they forbid F16 Zohar in Lev. fol. 34. 4. a man looking on the beauty of his own wife. Now these things were said by them, chiefly to cover themselves, and because they would be thought to be very chaste; when they were, as Christ calls them, an "adulterous generation" in a literal sense: they usually did what our Lord observes, "strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel". We read in the Talmud F17 T. Bab Sota, fol. 21. 2. , of חסיד שוטה , a "foolish saint" and it is asked, who is he? and it is answered, one that sees a woman drowning in a river, and says it is not lawful for me לאיסתכולי בה , "to look" upon her, and deliver her. It was not any looking upon a woman, that is forbid by Christ as criminal; but so to look, as "to lust after her"; for such an one
hath committed adultery with her already in his heart . But these men, who forbad external looking upon a woman, generally speaking, had no notion of heart sins; and which was the prevailing opinion of the Pharisees, in Christ's time.
"A good thought, they F18 T. Bab. Kiddushin, fol. 40. 1. allow, is reckoned as if done; as it is said, Malachi 3:16 . Upon which it is asked, what is the meaning of that, and "that thought" upon "his name?" Says R. Ase, if a man thinks to do a good work, and is hindered, and does it not, the Scripture reckons it to him, as if he did it; but an evil thought, the holy blessed God does not account of it as if done, as is said, Psalm 66:18 .'
Upon which words, a noted commentator F19 R. David Kimchi, in Psal. lxvi. 18. of their's has this remark:
"Though I regard iniquity in my heart to do it, even in thought, yea, against God himself, as if I had expressed it with my lips, he does not hear it; that is, לא חשב לי עון , "he does not reckon it to me for sin"; because the holy blessed God does not account an evil thought for an action, to them that are in the faith of God, or of the true religion.'
For it seems, this is only true of the Israelites; it is just the reverse with the Gentiles, in whom God does not reckon of a good thought, as if it was done, but does of an evil one, as if it was in act F20 T. Hieros. Peah, fol. 16. 2. . It must be owned, that this is not the sense of them all; for some of them have gone so far as to say F21 T. Bab. Yoma, fol. 29. 1. , that
"the thoughts of sin are greater, or harder, than sin itself:'
by which they mean, that it is more difficult to subdue sinful lusts, than to refrain from the act of sin itself; and particularly, some of them say things which agree with, and come very near to what our Lord here says; as when they affirm F23 T. Hieros. Challa, fol. 58. 3. Massechet Calah, fol. 16. 4. Vid. Maimon. Issure Bia, c. 21. sect. 2. & Moses Kotsensis Mitzvot Tora precept. neg. 126. , that
"everyone that looks upon a woman בכוונה , with intention, it is all one as if he lay with her.'
And that נואף בעיניו נקרא נואף , "he that committeth adultery with his eyes, is called an adulterer" F24 Vajikra Rabba, sect. 23. fol. 265. 1. . Yea, they also observe F25 Bemidbar Rabba, sect. 9. fol. 196. 1. , that a woman may commit adultery in her heart, as well as a man; but the Pharisees of Christ's time were of another mind.